The Lueneburg Agenda of Art and Sociology for Sustainability

(Initial post by Hans Dieleman, Apr 20 2007)

In Lueneburg in April 2007 a group of artists and sociologists talked about sustainability during the conference “New Frontiers in Arts Sociology: Creativity, Support and Sustainability”. It was a really great experience. I came back with lots of new contacts and lots of new ideas: about the culture of sustainability, about sustainability as destroying things, about collective intuitive knowing, and much more. Here is my list of new ideas and thoughts, that may turn into ”an agenda of inquiry for art and sociology for sustainability”.

1 -

It was great to be together with social scientists and artists combined. The combination really gives an added value, compared to the conferences I usually go to, having only scientists. For me, being a social scientist, the artists really contribute to a more open attitude, to open up the fixed and closed ways of seeing reality so common in most scientific communities. Insa from Germany suggested the following: to develop a formula of working in teams of artists and scientists on problems of sustainability. She was sure the results would be very interesting. She said: ‘give me 10 artists and 10 scientists to work with”. I believe in her. WE SHOULD DO THAT!!!

Point 1: Yes, yes, yes, I completely agree, I do a bit of work of this kind, only we are not 20 but 4-5, moving into more - and the Gravitations Centre is just this: a bringing together of people that want to change the day through real work, with all the joy of art and the seriousness of the challenge that lies in this very moment. But I think it is important to try some more spectacular work (Hmm, Debord coming up here, on the spectacular), where we bring together a rather large amount of people to reach a kind of critical mass working on one project/theme. Inse, count me in.

(by Oleg Koefoed, Apr 20 2007)

I would like to bring some tempering comment: I do not adhere to the naive romantic idea that the artist is always a ‘lateral thinker’ with an open attitude. Most artists are working in their ‘art worlds’ with their own very closed networks, discourses, conventions and taboos. But indeed, interdisciplinarity in general can bring humans to heal from their maladies of specializations. This applies to all specialized groups, scientists, artists, engineers, educators, managers, etc.

Sacha Kagan 2007/05/16 17:05

The first point is an interesting one. My idea of “cultural mix” includes more than scientists and artists, for example also journalists, teachers and civil society. But I think it is good to begin with two groups.

(by Davide Brocchi, Apr 24 2007)

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I thought a lot about the value of art in societies. It was Jan from South-Africa who stimulated me in this. His observation was that societies without REFLECTIVE art are usually societies without humanity. Jan emphasized the word ‘reflective’, to distinguish from various forms of craftsmanship. It is the element of reflexivity that is crucial (totally in line with my presentation at the conference). Jan mentioned a number of examples to illustrate his point and he made me think a lot. Later David from England mentioned in his speech that ‘art is a producer of stories’ and ‘through art we can see nature more clearly’. Again it made me think. In my work I focus maybe too much on a one-on-one relationship between art and sustainability. Maybe the link is much more indirect. Stuff to reflect on!!


My participation in this is limited by my lack of knowledge of the technology involved but in reply to your generous response to my observations presented at the conference, the following.

The values one attribute to art as it is experienced by all of humanity, (we see it also in contemporary art making in Africa and the rest of the contemporary art from the ‘developing world’), can be stated as; ‘reflection, creativity, individualism, freedom of expression, liberty, inspiration, inclusiveness, excellence, pride and dignity’ etc. Not the values that one would associate with traditional art as it appears in Africa and most parts of the ‘developing world’, particularly not ‘freedom of expression, individualism and creativity’. We could possibly add to this the art of therapy and other forms of art that is made not with the intention to share with the rest of humanity, including propaganda and political motivated art. Art generally created to be shared with the rest of humanity and to be reflected upon by the viewer, one could define as humanist art.

The traditional art in Africa and the ‘developing world’ largely focus on the ceremonial and ritualistic, mostly secretive and therefore exclusive, participation is mostly limited to the immediate community members and not intended to speak to all and be reflected upon by all of humanity. This however does not mean that we do not find humanity in Africa and the developing world. Just that the making of traditional art is governed by the social/cultural traditions of local communities and these are not intended to be inspirational and be reflected upon by all of humanity. More often these traditional objects are intended to induce emotions of fear and submission for and to the traditional beliefs in the viewer, limited to the local community. Very different to the art from the ‘developed’ societies where art is made to hopefully speak to all viewers, where and who they are not being important.

It is the relationship between the creative arts and freedom of expression, human rights and democracy that is important. The contention would be that without the creative arts, these values would be difficult to establish in society and also the other way round. Without these values the creative arts would suffer under state censorship and institutional oppression. Not incidental that under oppressive regimes the first to leave are the journalists and the so-called creative individuals.

One could go on to say that the difficulties experienced in Africa and large parts of the ‘developing’ world regarding ‘sustainable development’ is more symptomatic by the struggle of the cultures from these regions with establishing and sustaining democracy, respecting and being inspired by human rights and respecting freedom of expression. These values after all are all dependent on each other. (This is said with particular reference to the political rulers in these societies). Without freedom of expression we do not have human rights and without human rights we do not have democracy.

Humanity is that which we associate with all peoples across the world and sustaining/keeping art alive is invaluable if humanity, also in the ‘developed’ societies, wants to continue sustaining those values associated with art as alluded to above. It is not incidental that it is only in those societies where we find well established traditions of the creative arts, particularly public arts, that we also find democracy being sustained and development in all its forms taking place on a ‘sustainable’ basis. Again not something we associate with the problems regarding ‘sustainable development’ in the so-called ‘developing’ world.

In light of the above one does not find strange that the struggle in the developing world is not one of sustainability but one of survival.

After all these weeks since the conference I must once again express my appreciation to all for the enriching experience that the conference provided us with.

Jan. 13/6/07

Point 2: Add to this the importance of something like philosophical activity in society: philosophy in the sense of activitiy that works through explicitations of reflection on the grounds of society: moral/ethical, energetic, material, spiritual, etc. - this can be done through art or through philosophy or through social movements, the point is not one of institutions, but of the events of reflective activity making their appearance in society. This is a way to look at i.e. philosophy/art on the African continent (sorry, Jan), that is still very new and small. I can post some links to some of the people working in something like this domain, maybe you already know them.

(by Oleg Koefoed, Apr 20 2007)

“I thought a lot about the value of art in societies.” But there is more kinds of arts - and not all kind of art are “sustainable.” David said that our creativity can mean also destruction for the others. What for an art do we need for a better world? “It is the element of reflexivity that is crucial.” I agree with that. I’m only curious for a question: Could reflexivity be also a kind of self-referenced process? The “ego” in the middle of the own universe? I think, reflexivity is very important combined with an open communication with the extern environment/context.

(by Davide Brocchi, Apr 24 2007)

3 -

“Un-sustainability is not about what we create but about what we refuse to destroy”. A quote, I think again coming from David, later phrased in a different way by Oleg from Denmark. Isn’t that an interesting thought? I very much like to work on this question: what do we need to destroy for sustainability? Is anybody working on this? For sure I don’t know any research program on this. AGAIN: WE SHOULD MAKE SUCH A PROJECT/PROGRAM.

Point 3: this is of course my main point, so I will leave it a bit and send you all instead the summary of our first symposion on Sustainable Philosophy, held at Gravitations in Copenhagen a few months ago. Very briefly: the main point was the one that sustainanility is not about preserving the ability to remain what we are, but about nurturing the force to become what we are, to potentialise virtuality. (very briefly, as I said.... more will follow) This has a lot of consequences and there are some very critical (in more sense than one) questions in this. I will send the summary soon.

(by Oleg Koefoed, Apr 20 2007)

Actually, what David Haley said is the opposite: “Sustainability is not about what we create but about what we refuse to destroy”. But of course the misunderstood quote from David is an interesting starting-point, and indeed ‘sustainability’ probably implies destruction. This is not what the consensual mainstream discourse on sustainability says, because destruction sounds maybe radical. And actually, yes, it is radical. For example, the discourse of constant economic growth is a discourse of continuous accumulation and expansion, while sustainability will imply another understanding where the cycle of creation and destruction does not allow continuous accumulation and growth. Creation through destruction indeed, the old Shiva slogan, is often mentionned by capitalist economists (Cf. Schumpeter) but always within the frame of continuous economic growth, which ignores destruction...

Sacha Kagan 2007/05/16 17:13

Every PROJECT/PROGRAM are human - and the human being is limited in the understanding of the complexity. We can understand this complexity better with our emotions - than with our “easy” concept. Are project and programs a result of emotion or of cognitive and rational constructs? The problem of the industrialisation or of the modernisation is, that the world became more and more an human construct through our work and the technologies. We don’t need to change our mind: we can change the world ;-D The ecology shows us also the limit of our (rational?) creativity.

(by Davide Brocchi, Apr 24 2007)

4 -

I realized that the conference can be a starting point for new ‘post-disciplinary’ work on art and sustainability. The topic of ‘art and sustainability’ still is rather new and many ideas ask to be explored much more. Let’s make a research agenda for art and sociology for sustainability! But it must be an agenda for art and sociology combined, a post-disciplinary one. This should be possible. Art is inquiry, just like science, only in different ways with different methods. So maybe it would be better to make “an agenda of inquiry for art and sociology for sustainability”. Interested? Let me know!!

I think than in the German network of Cultura21 there are some interested people for this task. Yes, it would be nice to have a closer definition of art and of sustainability. About “sustainability” I like the text of the Hammarkjold Foundation of 1975 very much: “What now? Another development”. The development was definited with three goals: a) satisfaction of the basic needs; b) Self-reliance; c) Eco-development.

(by Davide Brocchi, Apr 24 2007)

5 -

One of the topics in such an agenda of inquiry can be to look more closely into “intervention-art”. It is the kind of work that artists do in marginalized neighbourhoods with the aim to revitalize these neighbourhoods and to empower the people living there. We talked about that in one session with an artist from the art collective ‘Wochenklausur’ and researchers from Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, France, England and Italy. It is obvious that this new intervention-art has a lot of potentials. But what is it really? What is the secret behind its success? What is its potential? Very interesting stuff to explore!!

6 -

On more topic for the agenda of inquiry is the issue of “new consumerism and sustainability”. In my presentation I talked about ‘aesthetic reflection’ and how consumption and esthetics are more and more important in shaping identities in contemporary life. In changing towards sustainability we should be aware of that, and of the potentials of cultural industries in contributing to sustainability. I acknowledged the importance but warned for the dangers of a shallow approach: that it focuses too much on ‘looks’, the ‘cosmetics’. I received quit some responses to that. The bottom line in the responses was that new consumerism is more than looks. It is about ‘introducing the public interest in the private domain’, about sustainability through consumption. I like to know more about that. I want to believe it (but I am skeptical). So I invite those who opposed to me: SHOW ME MORE!! This topic is definitely on my agenda.

7 -

It was the same Insa who asked for the teams of artists and scientists working together, who made the following observation. She as an artists mentioned that many artists work on issues of ‘environment’ and ‘sustainability’ (like water, waste, climate change, poverty, animal rights etc.). Yet she observed that many of these artists felt a little bit ‘alone’ as they were not recognized as being part of a distinct movement in art. Such a movement could be called for instance ‘eco-art’. She explained this by the absence of a theoretical basis for an ‘eco-art’ movement’. Insa made a plea to develop such a theoretical basis. I think this too is a very interesting thought. Many questions depart from her observations: is such a basis needed, how could it look like, how do movements in art develop and establish themselves in general, and many more questions. This topic too should be part of the agenda and I hope to see a really good work on this topic appear one day!!

I find it unfair to say that there is no eco-art movement with a theoretical basis yet. There is such a movement, and it is quite active especially in the English-speaking world. See for example ...

But what is still lacking (apart from a few initiatives like those of Stepahnie Smith in Chicago and Maja and Reuben Fowkes in Budapest) is a movement of Sustainability Art, that would join the insights from the already existing movements of Eco-Art, Intervention Art, Institutional Critique, Community Art, Art in Public Space and other politically involved movements (with e.g. performance art, heirs of Russian constructivism, Brecht theatre, Boal’s Forum theatre, etc.) and even currently non-politically-involved ‘relational aesthetics’ art and ‘contextual art’...

Sacha Kagan 2007/05/17 17:57

8 -

And last but certainly not least there is the question into the culture of sustainability. What is a culture of sustainability? This is the topic of Davide working in ‘Cultura21’ and the PhD work of Sacha who did such a tremendous job organizing the sustainability part of the conference. Every evening after the conference and after the diners I had my ‘after party’ with Sacha: discussions on sustainability until very, very late in the night. Out of these after-parties and the conference itself I learned the following. A culture of sustainability is for sure a culture of holism and systems thinking. Equally certain it is a culture, away from the claims of ‘objectivity’. It is a culture embedded in the acceptance of (inter-)subjectivity and having ethics and moral as its basis (Sacha challenged me to be more explicit in where I stand and to hide less behind my scientific analyses). One of my questions is: can there be ‘A’ culture of sustainability? Or, can we identify some universally applicable elements or characteristics for various cultures of sustainability (like holism or systems thinking)? Or is the essence of a culture of sustainability ‘diversity’. Is the one universal feature the feature of diversity? Again things to think about, to put high on our agenda, to work with and to explore further!!

Point 8: Developing the meaning of culturalities of sustainability, as I prefer to phrase it, is a very important task, and one that must bring together social science, philosophy, art, and activism/experimentation. This is, in some sense, as far as I see it, the conflexion of all the other tasks and questions - mainly because I do sense a certain urgency regarding this point. But an urgency that should not close in upon itself and produce instant-automaton responses and doctrines. As you may have heard a little, I see this mainly as a matter of understanding the intertwinement of worlds in the evental encounter, this will be developed further in both projects and publications, but to that let me add: count me in on the experimental team, we need to do more than speak and think here, we must do both of these, but experimentation is very important. There is a great fear of the radical experiment in my country these years, it is very worrying, and the only way to counter it is by making more experiments, while making it clear what it’s all about and by trying to push our understanding still further into the edge of what we do not know, but sense, intuitively, maybe.

(by Oleg Koefoed, Apr 20 2007)

“Every evening after the conference and after the diners I had my ‘after party’ with Sacha”: Yes, I can remember it! :-D Yes, I prefer to speak about “cultures of sustainability” than about one monoculture of susty. “A culture of sustainability is for sure a culture of holism and systems thinking.” But at the same time we cannot pretend to be God. We need a cultural diversity, because nobody of us can understand all the universe and the complexity, but only a piece of that. The communication in the diversity is an important strategy for coming nearer to the dynamical complexity. The society works maybe like our brain, like networks, like ecosystems. The relations are more important than the objects. The open communication is more important than the cultural values. In the sustainability the goal is the process itself and the process is the goal. We don’t need only a culture of susty, but also a cultural strategy for the social changing. I think that arts, mass media, education and social movements can play an important role in this strategy.

“Or is the essence of a culture of sustainability ‘diversity’” and relativism? Yes, is it. We can “believe” in universal values, but I don’t think, we can know them exactly. So we have to remain open and to learn forward.

(by Davide Brocchi, Apr 24 2007)

Towards a real agenda??

These are just my ideas and impressions. Maybe a starting point of a real Lueneburg agenda for art and sociology for sustainability. But such an agenda must be more comprehensive and must be a collective work. So I call upon you we were at the conference and those who were NOT at the conference but have ideas to add to the list on this page. From there on we can see how to move forward.

It would be good to try and turn the (currently 8) points discussed here in the conversation, into some points in the ‘shared discourse’ section of the wiki, i.e. into a common text that all members will rework (i.e. work on the same text and not add comments; comments have their place in the conversation pages like here...)

Sacha Kagan 2007/05/17 18:09

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